I FIRST saw the current Classic Thriller Company touring production of The Lady Vanishes in Bath at the end of January, and now it is at Yeovil Octagon with a substantially new cast.
Roy Marsden directs this adapation of a Hitchcock film, performed on an impressive and atmospheric set designed by Morgan Large and lit by Charlie Morgan Jones. It all starts so well, in a cavernous Austrian railway station where the passengers are irked to find the train has been delayed by an avalanche.
The new cast includes Gwen Taylor as Miss Froy, the lady who vanishes, convincingly playing a woman 20 years her junior with gleeful charm. Andrew Lancel is a menacing Mr Hartz, with Nicholas Audsley charismatically stepping into the role of Max. As Iris, Scarlett Archer’s delivery lost audibility through speed. Sixties pop star turned actor Mark Wynter was perfect as the crusty barrister, with Rosie Thompson as his disappointed mistress Margaret. Dennis Lill and Ben Nealon were the cricketing buffs – perhaps the greatest red herrings in that they did not turn out to be British intelligence men.
One of the main problems with this production is that it doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy or a tense drama, and this was underlined by the reaction of the two audiences. A Bath audience is very different from the Octagon regulars, but both were confused as to whether to laugh or gasp.
This is partly because, in spite of a new cast and a slight tightening up, the physical side of the show is lamentably sub-standard. It’s not just comparisons with companies like Mischief (The Play that Goes Wrong etc) and New Old Friends, but lots of local amateurs, all of whom manage the split-second timing needed in the slaps, the fisticuffs and all the other physical drama. Someone should have stood back and looked at an early stage, and brought in an expert. It’s such a waste of a fantastic set, some fine performers and an exciting story.